Thursday, April 19, 2018
Politics

Campaign attacks heat up in Pinellas County Commission races

The cordiality couldn't last.

With days to go until Tuesday's primary, what had been a couple of relatively polite Pinellas County Commission races have turned a bit ugly.

The week started with state Sen. Jack Latvala urging voters in an open letter to pick someone other than former state Rep. Peter Nehr in the crowded District 4 Republican primary. In the letter posted on Facebook and sent to the local media, Latvala criticizes his former colleague for "personal financial and ethical lapses."

Now former Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats is joining the fray.

He said he also doesn't think Nehr is fit for office.

In 2011, while he was serving in the state House, Nehr owned an Internet sweepstakes cafe at a time when Coats and others were ramping up efforts to rid the state of what they considered illegal gambling, the former sheriff said. Coats traveled to Tallahassee several times to lobby lawmakers to ban the cafes.

"It was clearly, in our view, against the law and (Nehr) tried to get me to give them a pass," Coats said. "I don't think we need somebody on the County Commission who takes that kind of position on that kind of activity."

Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, didn't mention specific criticisms of Nehr in his letter but in an interview pointed to past media coverage. Nehr has twice declared bankruptcy, and the Tampa Bay Times found that after he lost his bid for a fourth term in the House, he used campaign funds to pay his live-in girlfriend, an acupuncturist, $22,000 for what he said was "consulting, editing and fundraising" work.

Nehr has said the woman worked hard on his campaign and deserved compensation. In an interview Monday, he called Latvala's attack "desperation" and said personal issues have nothing to do with his work as a commissioner.

Nehr didn't return messages from the Times on Wednesday or Thursday, but he has gone on the offensive, too.

In a piece that hit mailboxes this week, Nehr calls two of his challengers — retired dentist Johnny Johnson and Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers — "RINOs," or "Republicans in Name Only."

The mailer features a 2012 photo of Johnson holding campaign signs for Democratic candidates Charlie Justice and Janet Long, who would go on to unseat two of the County Commission's Republican incumbents who voted to stop adding fluoride to the county water supply. The sign also includes the image of a tooth and the phrase "pro-fluoride." Johnson is wearing a pillowy, smiling tooth.

The flier claims he gave almost $500 to Justice and Long. It also notes that Johnson and Eggers support the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum, a Nov. 4 ballot item that would raise the county's sales tax by a penny to expand bus service and build a light rail system between St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

"If Johnny Johnson is supported by Democrats, acts like a Democrat, will vote to increase taxes like a Democrat, then he should have ran as a Democrat," the flier says.

Johnson said he supported Justice and Long on behalf of county and state dental associations on the "nonpartisan issue" of returning fluoride to the water supply. Long and Justice had vowed to reverse a vote by incumbents Neil Brickfield and Nancy Bostock to stop adding the cavity-fighting mineral.

"It would have gone against every fiber of mine not to have done what I know was right," Johnson said.

Johnson and Eggers say the Greenlight plan isn't perfect but is worthy of support to improve mass transit and spur economic development. Eggers said his record on the Dunedin City Commission illustrates his fiscal conservatism.

"It's not about Republican or Democrat, it's about getting things done for our residents," he said.

In the countywide District 2 Republican primary, state Rep. Ed Hooper has attacked incumbent Norm Roche with a mailer that features photos of Roche and Charlie Crist superimposed in a pea pod.

"Norm Roche and Charlie Crist have a lot in common: Both switched parties for political gain," the piece says.

It notes that Roche, who won as a Republican in 2010, ran as a Democrat three times, challenging "outstanding Republicans like Karen Seel, Neil Brickfield. Ronnie Duncan, J.J. Beyrouti and Lucile Casey."

The other side of the mailer includes excerpts of Times stories chronicling controversies in Roche's first year. It devotes the most space to the revelation that Roche "admitted to using a false name to slam St. Petersburg" on the Times website, and includes a couple of those choice quotes.

"I guess I should be flattered by his desperation," Roche said. "It's classic Tallahassee fare, but that's where these guys are trained."

Hooper said an opponent's documented record is fair game.

"If I had sent out a piece that alleged Commissioner Roche had done X, Y and Z and had nothing to back that up, that's different," Hooper said. "That's wrong."

Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

Comments
Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

TAMPA — For months, Tampa political aficionados have speculated: Will she or won’t she?Does Jane Castor, the city’s first woman police chief and presumed heavyweight mayoral candidate, really want the job? Asked and answered. Castor filed paperwork T...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

Everybody loses in a trade war, Canadian chamber CEO warns Tampa officials

TAMPA — President Donald Trump has tweeted "trade wars are good, and easy to win."Don’t believe it, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce told Tampa business and political leaders on Wednesday."We share more with you than with anybody els...
Published: 04/19/18
Hernando clerk of the court announces resignation to run for judicial seat

Hernando clerk of the court announces resignation to run for judicial seat

BROOKSVILLE — Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Don Barbee this week submitted his resignation — effective Jan. 7 — to run for an open circuit judge seat.Barbee, who is in the middle of his second term, said he made the move "with a tremendo...
Published: 04/17/18
Poll: Democrats’ advantage in midterm election support is shrinking

Poll: Democrats’ advantage in midterm election support is shrinking

Democrats hold an advantage ahead of the midterm elections, but a Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that edge has narrowed since January, a signal to party leaders and strategists that they could be premature in anticipating a huge wave of victorie...
Published: 04/16/18
Spokesman: Former first lady Barbara Bush in failing health

Spokesman: Former first lady Barbara Bush in failing health

HOUSTON — Former first lady Barbara Bush is in "failing health" and won’t seek additional medical treatment, a Bush family spokesman said Sunday. "Following a recent series of hospitalizations, and after consulting her family and doctors...
Published: 04/15/18
Trump assails Comey in tweetstorm, calls for ex-FBI director to be imprisoned

Trump assails Comey in tweetstorm, calls for ex-FBI director to be imprisoned

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump attacked James Comey in a fusillade of tweets Sunday morning, calling for the former FBI director to be imprisoned as Trump served up a number of his favorite theories and alleged misdeeds without evidence.Trump’s ...
Published: 04/15/18
President Trump’s approval rating is back near first-100-day levels

President Trump’s approval rating is back near first-100-day levels

President Donald Trump’s approval rating stands at 40 percent in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, slightly more than his 36 percent approval rating when last measured in January. It’s also the highest he’s enjoyed in Post-ABC polling since his fi...
Published: 04/15/18
Gun rights advocates holding rallies at state capitols in US

Gun rights advocates holding rallies at state capitols in US

DOVER, Del. — Gun rights supporters — many carrying rifles and ammunition — gathered at state capitols across the U.S. on Saturday to push back against efforts to pass stricter gun-control laws that they fear threaten their constitutional right to be...
Published: 04/15/18
Trump, Abe to meet as U.S.-Japan relationship shows strains over N. Korea, trade

Trump, Abe to meet as U.S.-Japan relationship shows strains over N. Korea, trade

President Donald Trump will welcome Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Mar-a-Lago this week in an effort to shore up their relationship amid strains in the U.S.-Japan alliance ahead of Trump’s potential summit with the leader of North Korea.Abe is...
Published: 04/14/18
Haley warns that US forces ‘locked and loaded’ if Syria stages another chemical attack

Haley warns that US forces ‘locked and loaded’ if Syria stages another chemical attack

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told the Security Council on Saturday that the United States is "locked and loaded," ready to launch another military strike if the Syrian government ever uses chemical weapons again."I spoke to the president...
Published: 04/14/18